“Tokyo 2020 is a big aim for me. I love racing and I want to do this for as long as possible.”
Swimmer Bethany Firth rose to prominence after topping the medals table for Great Britain at Rio 2016 with three golds and one silver.
After making her international debut at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, the 20-year-old has matured into a formidable force in the pool.
Despite her previous experience swimming at this level, she confessed that she did feel “a little bit nervous about competing at a Paralympics again,” adding, “It's such an incredible competition and I wanted to make sure I did as well as I could.”
Firth, like many other athletes, aimed simply to go to Rio and give her best possible performance.
“I only ever hope to swim as fast as I can,” she said. “But to win those medals was amazing. They are so heavy when you wear them all too.”
When asked about breaking a world record in the 100m backstroke S14 twice in the same day, she said: “I don't think about the time while I am racing. I just get out there and try to go fast. I loved getting my medals and to know I got the world records was the cherry on the top.”
Firth, along with her teammate Jessica-Jane Applegate, also broke multiple Paralympic records in the heats and finals of their other events. Much is made of rivalries between athletes but on the subject of Applegate, Firth simply said: “Jessica-Jane is a great athlete and we all push each other on so much in our races.”
She also credited her fellow S14 swimmers with helping her reach her potential.
“Everyone in the S14 is very strong and it's always good to race the girls in my category.”
Perhaps unexpectedly Firth had a fear of water as a youngster, and although her brothers and sisters learned to swim, Firth had never learned. However, swimming was on the curriculum at her specialist secondary school and her athletic potential in the pool was quickly spotted by a teacher. Firth was soon competing and winning medals, including four golds in her very first competition.
These days, her mixed and comprehensive training schedule includes three swimming sessions, three gym sessions, three physiotherapy sessions and a few yoga sessions each week. Although much of her time is spent training, Firth pointed out that she does occasionally get the chance to relax: “I get Saturday off unless there is a competition.”
“[After Rio 2016] I've had a break but I'm back training now,” she added.
Next up, Firth is targeting the World Para Swimming Championships in Mexico City in October 2017. Qualification and selection will depend on a good performance at the British Para Swimming International Meet in Sheffield, Great Britain, next April.
She is also looking further ahead: “Tokyo 2020 is a big aim for me. I love racing and I want to do this for as long as possible.”
The Mexico City 2017 World Para Swimming Championships are expected to feature 550 swimmers from 60 countries between 30 September-7 October. The competition will be held alongside the 2017 World Para Powerlifting Championships, creating one big festival of Para sports.